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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Ecumenism, Modernism, Heresy, Schism, and Zeal Not According to Knowledge

Around the Internet, one often runs into comments, Web sites, and whole religious groups which warn of the "pan-heresy of Ecumenism." These anti-ecumenism pundits will often tout slogans such as "Orthodoxy or Death" and urge true believers to beware of "False Union" with other Christian but Non-Orthodox bodies.

The heresy of ecumenism, specifically defined, is the belief that either the Orthodox faith is not wholly sufficient for salvation or that all Christian communions believe basically the same things and should reunite sacramentally and in the fellowship of common prayer. The ecumenist heretic may not believe that the Orthodox Church is the true Church founded by Christ and His Apostles and preserving their teachings uncorrupted to the present day. The ecumenist heretic may also believe that every other expression of Christianity (or even Non-Christian religious faith) is equally valid and wholesome.

All these ideas have, obviously, been around for a long time outside and inside of the Orthodox communion. However, it is important to make some significant distinctions which those who most often claim to be the most hard-line anti-ecumenists many times fail to make.

1. Involvement in the Ecumenical Movement does not mean that one holds the beliefs of an ecumenist heretic. Simply belonging to and holding discussions with an inter-faith body is not strong enough evidence for one to be convicted of heresy. As far as I know, even in Orthodox ecclesiastical courts and synods, there is no guilt by association. A conviction for heresy requires an examination into the actual beliefs of the accused. Therefore, those who cry "ecumenist heretic" at a member of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Antioch, Jerusalem, or Constantinople, for example, are spreading gossip and bearing false witness. The accused must speak for himself and be examined by those who have the right to examine him. Hearsay, off-hand remarks, rumors, and the like are not solid, admissable evidence, especially when brought up by unqualified persons (for example, random laymen accusing a bishop).

2. Just because a particular hierarch is involved in the Ecumenical Movement or even happens to be an ecumenist heretic, God forbid, does not mean that all the faithful under him are heretics, too. This goes for bishops and priests as well. Therefore, those groups who claim to be True or Genuine Orthodox and keep the faith "pure" while separating from most or all of the Orthodox communion, are at best schismatics with zeal not according to knowledge and at worst rogues and ecclesiastical rebels pretending to be Orthodox and following after charlatans and quacks.

The purity of the Orthodox Faith does not, thank God, depend solely on her hierarchs. One, or even a series of mis-statements or even theological blunders does not mean that the people under that bishop are no longer Orthodox. It does not even mean that the bishop is no longer Orthodox.

Those who have separated themselves in little pockets of theological purity have followed after those who think more of their own opinions than of the Orthodox tradition. If a bishop errs in making a decision, he will have to answer to God. Those who are under him must still be obedient because, until a synod depose him, he is still the ruling bishop.

The ancient Orthodox Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Serbia, Russia, Romania, etc. continue to flourish despite oppression from Communists, Mohammedans, and secularists. Meanwhile, the groups which have broken off, each to their own, like the so-called Holy Orthodox Church of North America (HOCNA), the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC--now apparently split between an administration in Russia and one in America), the Russian Orthodox Church In Exile (ROCiE--a splinter from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which is in communion with the other ancient Churches of the Orthodox world), and the many Greek, Romanian, and Bulgarian Old Calendrists groups continue to fragment and develop narrower and narrower visions of Orthodox truth, without deference to tradition and history, let alone the rest of the Orthodox world.

The thought that only me or my group has the right faith and all the other Orthodox are in delusion or not genuinely Orthodox is very dangerous. In this way, demonic pride is hidden behind a mask of fidelity to the truth.

It is time for these separated churches, their faithful and bishops to reevaluate their positions and their beliefs, to stop making excuses for their schisms, to stop pointing fingers at other bishops.

It should not be taken lightly that the Church on earth is also in communion with the saints and angels in heaven. If those following the New Calendar, for example, have been noted for sanctity, is following the New Calendar something justifying schism? If merely being a member of an ecumenical body is so damning, why, after so many decades of envolvement, haven't these Churches adopted the beliefs of the ecumenist heresy as outlined above? It is the Communion of Saints, I think, which has held Orthodoxy together even through difficult and confusing times.

The bishops have been put where they are by the will of God. If that is so, they have God to judge them, and synods of their peers to chastise them. It is not, therefore, mine or any other layman's or singular bishop's place, to sit in judgement. It is something reserved for learned men having the appropriate authority. For everyone else, it's a waste of time.

So, enough of rumors like "I heard so and so is a Mason," or "Bishop N. said that Christians, Mohammedans, Hindoos, and Buddhists serve the same God." These things are, in the first place, unsubstantiated rumors. Even if they were proven to be true, they do not have consequences affecting anyone but the individual who is a Mason or ecumenist heretic.

Rumors of heresy and gossip about personal conduct often have a convenient way of drawing attention away from the person starting the rumor or the gossip. Perhaps that person is guilty of the same or worse sins, besides just gossiping. Also, when other people listen to and accept these rumors and this gossip, and spread them to still more people, they endanger their own souls and the souls of those to whom they spread this filth. Being against ecumenist heresy is one thing, and commendable. But being totally consumed by zealotry to the point where one spreads slander and leaves the Orthodox Church for a puritanical sect is quite another, and totally condemnable. Already, this zeal not according knowledge has ruined many souls--the Orthodox who have been drawn into reactionary sects, the leaders and perpetuators of these sects, and the many innocent victims of this whole brainless campaign--the seekers of ancient Christianity confused, seduced, or turned aside by the words and actions of zealots without knowledge or love.

Temptations come from the right and from the left, that is, from what appears to be good and what is manifestly evil. Our job is to stick to the royal path and not to wander off in search of another one, no matter how "good" it might seem. Only by having moderation as our ascetic way will we reach our heavenly destination unharmed by the assaults of the enemy.

7 Comments:

Blogger Meg said...

I guess my chief concern with ecumenical participation is the path it can lead one down, such as permitting girls to serve on the altar, or having non-Christians offer their prayers in Orthodox temples -- both of which I have witnessed locally. But then, I'm a great believer in slippery slopes, one of the hazards, I guess, of having witnessed first-hand the catastrophe of Vatican II.

4:55 AM  
Blogger Eric John said...

Meg, welcome. Christ is risen!

Yes, I think it would be dangerously naive of any Orthodox to believe that we are immune to these unfortunate developments. Just because the trend of the 60s is reversing doesn't mean that the threat is going away. We all need to be learning more about our Orthodox tradition and faith and cultivating a love for those two things. However, we should not let modernist craziness push us over the edge toward puritanical schismatic lunacy.

This has, sadly, happened to many who may have thought at the time (and still do) that they are being faithful to Orthodoxy, when they have really cut themselves off. (Provided they have done so as an act of conscious and not of prideful self-will and under the direction of faithful and godly leaders, I would not say they were outside the Church in an absolute sense. There is a way where they could serve as the conscience of the Church--but I say this is a possibility and not necessarily the case with these groups today.) It's one thing to protest the un-Orthodox actions of a particular individual or group of hierarchs. It is quite another, graver thing to go off on your own.

If one examines Church history, one finds that weird hierarchical actions have little real impact on the whole Church. Even something as dramatic as the changing of the calendar, which we still deal with today, turned out not affecting anything but the calendar. True, we are in a pickle because of the change, but the life and faith of the Church has not changed.

Will things get to such a bad point where wrong turns, mistakes, and moments of idiocy will not be rectified? Probably. But utmost caution, prayer, and Orthodox education will be needed then in order to make a discerning decision. Without education in the depth and breadth of Orthodox tradition one will make the same mistake as the Russian Old Believers when faced with disturbing events and proposed changes.

2:52 PM  
Blogger James said...

Christ is risen!

I thank you for that article. I made the mistake of getting caught up in jurisdictional politics, traditionalists, etc. When I decided to convert, I was eager to learn the Faith, and was nearly torn apart by the question of ecumenism and the schismatics who insist that they alone are the only true Orthodox left in the world. I suppose that, early on, I should have looked at that claim and the size of these schismatic groups; if what they claim is true . . . the gates of hell must have prevailed against the Church. But we know this is not the case. The Church is One today as it was One at Pentecost.

So, I am happily a catechumen in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America, knowing that I am indeed entering the holy Orthodox Church in all Her glory, through one of Her Archdiocese.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Eric John said...

Dear James,

Christ is risen! Welcome to the Orthodox Church!

I went through the same things before becoming Orthodox. There is certainly a lot of confusing, competing information out there. God bless you and help you on your spiritual journey!

8:33 PM  
Blogger A Sombra said...

The Ecumenical Movement was launched basically, from two different areas.
First was the great interest in "uniting" Christianity by the Church of England, which brought about the "Branch Theory" which states that the Church of Christ is a big tree, with Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and the Church of England, not necessarily in that order, comprising the "trunk," with the other so-called Christian denominations comprising the branches.
Second was at the World Parliament of Religions at the Chicago World Fair with the address of Swami Vivekananda that strove to convince people that all religions had the same "essence," the same "meaning," the same "efficacy for salvation."
As the Ecumenical Movement stands today, the great majority of the participants believe in either one of both of the above Ecumenical Dogmas (if you will).
Ecumenism was labelled as a Pan Heresy because it undertakes to adopt ALL the heresies that have attacked the Church of Christ since the beginning, and pronounce tham as equal to the Church of Christ as the Saving Faith. So, it is much more involved than someone not accepting Orthodoxy as "wholly sufficient," or some sacramental "reunion." Again-the participants in the Ecumenical movement who accept the branc hteoriy and Vivekananda's ideal of all rleigions being n essence the same, ALREADY BELIEVE that the "reunion" has come. The "reunion" is contained in their beliefs-whether this or that "denomination," especially those "bogged down in the past" are trying to slow the gears makes no difference!
And whether or not a certain Orthodox Hierarch accepts this or that belief of Ecumenism or Masonry DOES have consequences affecting others than the individual who is a Mason-the prime example would be Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis-Archbishop of Greece-deposed; Patriarch of Constantinople-uncanonically elected-deposed; Patriarch of Alexandria; tried to become Patriarch of Jerusalem unsuccessfully, and well known thorught the Orthodox world as a Freemason-copies of his speech accepting membership as a Mason are well known. His involvement with Freemasonry-which has beliefs extremely similar if not identical with those of Vivekanada concerning the "identical nature" of all religions undoubtedly influenced him in the beginning of the participation of the the Patirarchate of Constantinople in the Ecumenical movement, as well as his uncanonical and divisive adoption of the Papal Calendar among some of the Orthodox.
As an aside-when the Optina Elder St. Nektary was asked if we should hope for the reunion of religions, he said, "No! This would take an Ecumenical Council-people will come to our Church individually or in small groups, but, there will be no reunions as there will be no more Ecumenical Councils." Also, Elder St. Nektary advised Holy Patriarch Tikhon-when Patriarch Tikhon learned that Elder St.Nektary advised against adopting the Papal Calendar, Patriarch Tikhon cancelled his order to do so.
SO, as always, things are not so simple and easy as we would have them. And while I neither belong to nor advocate any of the current schismatic groupings, it is also a but more complicated than "until a synod depose him, he is still the ruling bishop," as Canons of the Holy Church advise Orthodox Christians that those who leave Bishops who teach heresy "bareheaded in the Church" BEFORE any synodical condemnation are worthy of the honor of Orthodox Christians.
And, unfortunately, today's Bishops are more worried about enforcing Canons that say "I am your Bishop, YOU MUST BE OBEDIENT TO ME" much, much more than they are interested in Canons that instruct as to penalites for clergy who engage in public preayer with the heterodox! These Canons are either ignored, or tons of apologetic materials about how the Roman Catholic popes are not heretical, or how praying in Church with the Pope is not "strictly" public prayer"...as those Canons read, when one engages in the behavior described as prohibitied inthe Canon, no "Synodical condemnation" is necessary-the trasgressor brings the punishment upon himself for violating the Canon.
It is just that people must be more careful than simply repeatiing the "obedience" mantra over and obver and over...the "people of God" have ALWAYS been sharers in the responsibility of the purity of the Orthodox Faith, and this responsibility grows as Hierarchs ignore thier responsibility for the purity of the Orthodox Faith in order to earn the praise of men, or in order to gain political or financial or other advantage...there are many, many instances of these types of things in the history of the Church. In fact, at the time of the Council fo Florence, if ONE Bishop (Holy Saint Mark of Ephesus), the monkas of Mt Athos and the layman had not taken seriously their responsibillity to guard the Holy Faith, we would today, as Orthodox, be commemorating the Pope of Rome! And, the apostate Bekkos was almost universally ignored in his "Unionist" orders-and this before any SYniodical condemnation.

10:29 PM  
Blogger A Sombra said...

Quote: Even something as dramatic as the changing of the calendar, which we still deal with today, turned out not affecting anything but the calendar. True, we are in a pickle because of the change, but the life and faith of the Church has not changed. -Eric John

I am beyond another long post (I know, I know - you are grateful!)-all I can say is that if you feel that the change of the Calendar has not changed the life or faith of the Orthodox Church, I would suggest that you have insufficently studied that phenomenon. Unless, of course, you feel that Orthodox Christians being persecuted and martyred for holding to the Church Calendar that had been changed illegally and uncanonically is "no change" for the Orthodox Church . . . also, the Calendar change was undertaken for one reason and one reason only-Ecumenism! Do some research! Unless, of course, you think some people just had to do anything they could to do away with the Apostle's Fast....

10:41 PM  
Blogger Eric John said...

It could be that I am not as advanced in ecumenism studies as you are yourself, but I'm looking at the Church today and what is actually happening, not what did happen decades ago or what could happen.

Now, let's look at how things are, shall we? Are we in communion with Rome or any other heretical body? No. Did adoption of the Calendar lead to that decades later? No. Did decades of participation in the WCC lead to compromise of the faith today? No.

Ecumenism in the grand idea of everyone getting together is waning. Orthodox Churches are realizing the futility of involvement in those bodies and are leaving. We still have lots of work to do, but I see an awakening of conscience in the layity and clergy. The Church has weathered fowler storms than this one.

Now who has the most united witness to truth? The Orthodox--the Churches of Russia, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, etc. or the Old Calendrists?

One would think the Old Calendrists who are so vocal and active in their opposition to what they perceive as innovation would be united in their witness to Truth, after all, they say basically the same thing. But where are they? Scattered, divided, in schism from the Churches of "World Orthodoxy" and in schism from each other. There are at least 3 Greek Old Calendrist churches. Then you have various other groups in America. Now, if they can't unite together as Orthodox, how are they going to fend off the temptations from the right--schism, heresy (yes, that too), condemning their brethren?

I sympathize. I don't agree with unilateral calendar change or ecumenism. But I do believe that these things are being taken care of and do not require, at the moment, non-commemoration, schism or "walling off." The Churches you might label as ecumenist or modernist are still producing saints. And that's the proof of the pudding, really. Read Elder Cleopa of Romania, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Elder Porphyrios of Athens. They are in communion with "World Orthodoxy," not the Old Calendrists.

9:30 AM  

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